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Five great books set in COLOMBIA

23rd July 2019

Five great books set in COLOMBIA.

Colombia is the latest stop on our ‘Great books set in….’ series.

‘Hallucinatory – that’s just the way everyday life is, in Colombia. All the time, you say to yourself, did I just see that?’ – Barbet Schroeder

Here are 5 books – fiction, memoirs and travelogues – that are set in this hauntingly beautiful, and often troubled, South American country.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

In the best-known – and perhaps most dazzling – novel to come out of Latin America, Colombia’s favourite son takes us on a magic carpet ride through his country’s turbulent past.

Historical fact is liberally mixed with fantasy in a saga that spans six generations of the Buendia family. The Buendias have great strengths as well as fatal flaws, which play out in the rise and fall of the mythical town of Macondo in the South American jungle. Macondo, “an intricate stew of truth and mirages”, bears more than a passing resemblance to the author’s own home town of Aracataca on the Colombian coast.

In this sweep of history as seen through the eyes of a single family – all of whose males are named Arcadio or Aureliano – civil war rages, lives are lost, hearts break and dreams shatter. The looping chronology, along with generations of Buendias sharing names and characteristics, gives us history as a story of repetition and return. That keeps readers on their toes in this enthralling and highly comic novel.

Misspelled Paradise by Bryanna Plog

Stretches of warm Caribbean beaches. Donkeys trotting down muddy roads. Vibrant cities alive with music, colour, and humanity.

If you’re looking for a book about Colombia that involves harrowing escapes from FARC guerrillas or tales of drug smuggling… this is not it. In­stead, MISSPELLED PARADISE gives an honest and light­hearted look at the history, culture, and diversity of a country that may be struggling with poverty and a civil conflict, but celebrates its joy with blasting street parties named after the stacks of amplifiers, tiny watery beers, and a never-ending parade of beauty contestants.

As a volunteer middle school English teacher in an impoverished Colombian Caribbean community, Bryanna Plog recounts with dry humour her year traveling Colombia’s cities, deserts, and rainforests (fairly successful ventures), her attempts to hold class on a regular schedule (less successful), and her quest to eat meals that didn’t include rice (a complete and utter failure).

From the high rises of Bogotá, to the small island town of Santa Ana, from the deserts of the Guajira peninsula and the northern-most part of South America, to the jungles of the Amazon rainforest far south, learn, be surprised, and laugh out loud as you journey through a reinvented Colombia.

The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vásquez

This book takes the form of personal and formal investigations into two political assassinations – the murders of Rafael Uribe Uribe in 1914, the man who inspired García Márquez’s General Buendia in One Hundred Years of Solitude, and of the charismatic Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, the man who might have been Colombia’s J.F.K., gunned down on the brink of success in the presidential elections of 1948.

Separated by more than 30 years, the two murders at first appear unconnected, but as the novel progresses Vásquez reveals how between them they contain the seeds of the violence that has bedevilled Colombia ever since.

The Shape of the Ruins is Vásquez’s most ambitious, challenging and rewarding novel to date.

El Mono by Tony Cleaver

When Karin Roth goes to Bogotá as an exchange student she quickly falls in love with the country and its people. Lively, attractive, and opinionated, she soon has a wide circle of Colombian friends, and is studying and partying in equal measure.

A trip to stay in a friend’s fincaor farm, however, awakens her to the beauty and grandeur of the Colombian landscape while an encounter with the strange, fair-headed El Mono, a mountain man with a profound, near-mystical connection to the Andean people and wildlife, conjures deep, troubling emotions.

Offered a summer internship in a multinational in Bogotá, she finds her loyalties are divided. Caught between the dazzling, cosmopolitan world of big business and the exhilarating freedom of the mountains and the pueblos, she must undergo a painful journey towards self-knowledge and redemption.

 Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

A mesmerizing debut set in Colombia at the height Pablo Escobar’s violent reign about a sheltered young girl and a teenage maid who strike an unlikely friendship that threatens to undo them both

Seven-year-old Chula and her older sister Cassandra enjoy carefree lives thanks to their gated community in Bogotá, but the threat of kidnappings, car bombs, and assassinations hover just outside the neighborhood walls, where the godlike drug lord Pablo Escobar continues to elude authorities and capture the attention of the nation.

When their mother hires Petrona, a live-in-maid from the city’s guerrilla-occupied slum, Chula makes it her mission to understand Petrona’s mysterious ways. But Petrona’s unusual behaviour belies more than shyness. She is a young woman crumbling under the burden of providing for her family as the rip tide of first love pulls her in the opposite direction.

As both girls’ families scramble to maintain stability amidst the rapidly escalating conflict, Petrona and Chula find themselves entangled in a web of secrecy that will force them both to choose between sacrifice and betrayal.

Inspired by the author’s own life, and told through the alternating perspectives of the willful Chula and the achingly hopeful Petrona, Fruit of the Drunken Tree contrasts two very different, but inextricably linked coming-of-age stories. In lush prose, Rojas Contreras has written a powerful testament to the impossible choices women are often forced to make in the face of violence and the unexpected connections that can blossom out of desperation.

Andrew for the TripFiction Team

Which titles would you add to the list? Remember there are nearly 20 to choose from in the Colombia listings on TripFiction…! Each will transport you to some excellent fiction, travelogues or memoirs set in this intriguing country. Or you may have your own favourites you would like to add. Please leave your thoughts in the Comments box below.

Other posts in our ‘Ten/five great books set in…’ series that might interest you, and look out for more ‘great books‘ posts set in other Latin American countries:

Five great books set in Argentina

Five great books set in Peru 

Five great books set in Mexico

Five great books set in Chile 

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